lab dynamics at the conference

Jun 29 2011 Published by under colleagues

I wanted to let you all know that I will be out of town for a conference...last week. ooops! Better late than never, right? Since you asked...the conference was a huge success!! This was a relatively large meeting for my field, but I have been around long enough that I feel like I know *almost* everyone. It was great to catch up with everyone, I laid down the foundation for a couple of collaborations, and I think that I may have a couple of nibbles for some postdocs (fingers are crossed!).

The most exciting thing about this meeting is that it was the first meeting that I took all my students to! They did great. More precisely, I assume they did great. I saw them at lots of sessions but they didn't spend a lot of time with me. I introduced them to as many folks as I could and they are all RAMPED now that they are back in lab! They are reading more papers and I have overheard several conversations about talks and posters they saw at the meeting. More importantly, they all seem genuinely excited about their own research projects and how they fit in with the rest of the field. Hopefully this will translate into some research results over the summer 🙂

The lab dynamic at meetings is interesting to me. For all my training I have been going to these meetings pretty much solo. I don't know why, but the folks that I have worked with before were never really "travellers". I guess after a point you don't have to be. And I was in pretty small labs, with only a couple of other students/postdocs. This meant that when I was at a meeting I didn't even have the option of hanging out with my fellow lab mates. But I know this is not really the norm, because a lot of the folks that I talk to at meetings hang out with other people from their home lab. A LOT! This confuses me a little, because I like meeting new people (and talking to folks that I can't see everyday) when I'm at meetings. So, I was actually pretty happy that my lab peeps were independent enough to navigate this meeting without my help. I guess now I know that next time I should plan ahead if we are going to arrange a lab-bonding experience at the next conference!

What do you think? Do you hang in a group with your lab mates at conferences, or are you more of a solo traveller?

16 responses so far

  • As a grad student in a small lab, I've also mostly traveled to conferences solo. The few instances that there were most or all of us, I generally did my own thing anyway, but our PI took us all out to lunch or dinner at least once during the conference, and we all made sure to stop by eachothers' posters and whatnot. So, I guess kind of a compromise between the two extremes?

  • I'm in a medium-sized lab but we all work on such different things that our meeting overlap is pretty minimal - except earlier this year I accompanied a new postdoc to a Keystone meeting he didn't want to attend alone for various reasons....but we didn't really hang out that much since I was also writing my dissertation furiously (in <3 weeks total).

    My PI goes to the same big meeting I've been to a couple of times, but she's so busy I have only seen her at 1 award dinner I went to, as a member of the leadership council I was part of. Other than that I'm mostly alone, but like you enjoy the opportunity to meet other people, and the past 2 years have been to tweetups and visited my twitter connection's posters. I have not needed my PI to hand-hold about what science to see etc - maybe an undergrad might need that level of attention or less motivated grad student....probably my 1st meeting I went to the most science ever tbh.

  • My first meeting I was with several people from my lab. We didn't stick together the entire time, but we did do things together. However, we only really got together with the boss for one dinner.

    In subsequent years, I went to a meeting with one other student from lab. We agreed before going to events that we were there to connect with other people. Although we still ran into each other, we set goals for meeting new peeps each day.

  • Dan Gaston says:

    I've done both as a grad student. We hosted some big local meetings my first few summers here and so all of us locals were in charge of making sure people had a good time. Meaning we organized many informal pub sessions after the talks. So we hung out with people we knew, but also were meeting new people as well.

    The last two conferences I've gone to I didn't travel with my lab. One I went with a fellow student from our group and a post-doc, the other I went solo. On the solo trip there were already people I knew quite well from previous conferences or that I used to work with there though.

  • As a grad student, I went to meetings on my own, or with other grad students, but tried my best to hang out with people from other universities to learn from them/publicize my own work. I come back from good conferences jazzed and with a head full of new ideas that will probably never pan, but sometimes lead to good things. Your grad students' sudden jump paper reading is also something I experienced.

    Now the shoe is on the other foot for me. I have an undergrad who will be attending a small meeting with me in a field that I am only tangentially connected to. I'm going to have to figure out the balance of how much to hold her hand, versus use this as an opportunity to meet people. Obviously, doing both would be ideal, but expecting to do that may be setting myself up for failure.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    It depends a lot on the meeting and those traveling with me. I basically leave it up to the lab to decide if they want to hang with me or not. I'll do my thing and if they want to meet up for meals, sessions or whatnot, that's fine. If they don't, no problem too.

  • Drug Monkey says:

    You were spot on in introducing the trainees to people. This is your major task as a mentor when it comes to meetings.

  • As I've thus far gone mostly to the biggest conferences in my feild and I'm in a (relatively) large group, we've generally had at least two of us at any given meeting. The students tend to spend time together outside of technical sessions, but our PI is somewhat of a phantom at these events. However, we're not a very social lab normally, so conferences are one of the only times we hang out outside the lab.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    My previous mentors (esp grad advisor) always took the time to introduce me to new people. It helped immensely with my networking skillz. Typically we would have a 'lab dinner', but other than that we could do group things or be singletons-it was up to us.

  • kimu says:

    More of a solo traveller. We end up in some of the same conference sessions & outside activities due to the things we're interested in, but don't make an effort to coordinate most of the time. I do make an effort to introduce students from my department (not just my lab) to various people at the meeting whenever possible.

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    We intentionally go to different sessions as to cover the waterfront on what was talked about and report back to the lab what we saw. As far as hanging out afterwards, we do one group event one night and then everyone is on their own for the rest of the other nights. That way we have a "family night" and then you get to do whatever you want.

  • Dr Becca says:

    I have almost always gone to meetings by myself, either because my PI didn't travel, or because my research was tangential to my lab's main focus, so I was the only one for whom a particular meeting was relevant.

    In a lot of ways, I see it as a blessing because it meant that the people I met associated my research with ME, and not with my advisor. I imagine that I appeared (and felt) independent from very early on, which is useful when you're trying to make a name for yourself (which all trainees should be doing!)

    I did, however, always feel a little jealous at SfN when my friends couldn't go out to dinner with because it was "lab dinner" night. I never had lab dinner night. *sob*

  • I usually went alone, occasionally with another trainee (never more than two of us), and never with my PI. TBH I preferred going it alone, as I could meet more new people that way (although some meetings are more social for singletons than others), and I think it was better for the lab, too, that we all went off individually. This is because everyone who came back from a meeting would do an hour-long lab meeting where they'd present a summary of the most interesting talks and posters they'd seen at the conference; with everyone going to different meetings, the lab as a whole was exposed to more new science!

  • gerty-z says:

    It seems like the consensus here is that many (most?) folks here spent a fair amount of meeting time on their own at meetings. I find this strange, because it has always seemed to me that a LOT of folks I see at conferences tend to hang out in groups consisting largely of other folks from their lab (especially at the social events). Maybe this is because I always felt like I was breaking into a group, since I was there on my own?

    I guess another possibility is that I am not polling a representative audience?

  • Najet says:

    I agree because, if a pseorn has gone to college/university, that pseorn follows a well paid job that they spent years in school learning. Say you wanted to be a doctor, you would spend years studying for the job, and with studying comes learning. On the other hand, if you got a job as a fry cook at McDonald's you wouldn't need to know very much about the job to work as that title, but as a doctor you need to know what your doing to succeed in it.

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